© C. O. Bishop 11/4/2017 Cornell Estates 11/5/2017
Last time we were together, we discussed Paul’s ministry, his imprisonment, and the result of his imprisonment upon the spread of the Gospel. We saw how the persecuted church has always prospered, and that, in Paul’s case, there were actually people preaching the true Gospel with the express hope of increasing Paul’s punishment. That is a very odd idea, but there have been false teachers in the past century who did the same thing, but for money…they were not committed to the Christ of the Gospel, nor to the accuracy of His written Word, but, for some reason they preached a fairly accurate version of the Gospel, and the result was that souls are saved: Why?
Because God’s promise concerning the means of salvation (The Gospel), being believed in, is the only way anyone in the history of the human race has ever been saved. If you happened to have read it in the Bible, and believed it, you are eternally a child of God. If you found it in a discarded tract, or in a Christian newspaper that someone wadded up and used to pack an object for shipping…and believed it, then you are eternally a child of God. If a drunken transient on the street mumbled it to you, while you waited for a taxi…and if it was accurate…and you placed your trust in the Cross because of it, then you are eternally a child of God.
How you got that message and the nature of the messenger, are not important. The Message itself (The Gospel), and how you responded to it (Faith) are all that count, where your salvation is concerned.
What happened after that can only affect the quality of your walk with God, and the reward you can hope for in eternity. There is an extensive list in Hebrews 11 of men and women whom God commended for their faith. When I look through that list and then go read their life-stories in the Old Testament, I am struck by what flawed individuals most of them were, before and after salvation. I am grateful that God chose those sort to commend for faith, because if he only had listed folks like Daniel, who seemed nearly flawless, I would feel somewhat hopeless, as I am also a flawed individual, like those listed along with Daniel. In fact, he didn’t actually name Daniel…he just mentioned the incident with the lions, and left it for us to research on our own.
With that concept as the backdrop, let’s continue on and see the rest of what Paul has to say about his ministry, and his circumstances as this letter was being written.
Hope For Deliverance
19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
The word translated “salvation” here, is “soterian”, and carries the idea of deliverance. In fact, the word “salvation” always means deliverance, but in our language, we have narrowed the meaning of “salvation” to mean “saved from hell” or “saved from sin”, so that we balk over verses that also label Moses or Joshua as a “savior”. We think the word “savior” should be reserved for Jesus alone.
OK… that’s fine! But, in the Old Testament, the same Hebrew word (yasha) is applied to Moses, Joshua and others. The critical issue is only “from what are we being saved, or delivered?” In the case of Moses, he “delivered” Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. Joshua delivered them from their enemies in Canaan, and the other judges each made similar “saves”, delivering the people of Israel from their various enemies. (Nehemiah 9:27)
But Jesus is the only one said to “save his people from their sins”. Interestingly, the New Testament Greek word used for savior (Gr. soter), is only used when the Savior in question is specifically the person of Jesus Christ, or when it referred to God as our savior. But the form of the word usually translated “salvation” is sometimes translated “health”…having to do with physical well-being. All carry the idea of “deliverance from something.” It is just that, in the New Testament, our primary concern is eternal deliverance from sin.
But Paul was expecting to be delivered or released from prison, through the prayers of the believers, and by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the reasons we suspect that there may have been two imprisonments; we know that he was executed at the end of one particular imprisonment. If there was only one, then he simply had a wrong expectation here in his letter to the Philippians. If there were two, then he may have been released, and re-arrested later, this time culminating in martyrdom.
However, I have to say, it does not hurt my theology either way. Paul was confident in God that Christ would be glorified in his body either through life or through death…and he was somewhat leaning toward desiring the latter, as he knew what was eventually coming, and undoubtedly was ready for “retirement”. They say that “Christian Service doesn’t seem to pay very well, but the retirement is really ‘out of this world’.” Paul was ready to leave, any time.
20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul certainly understood that he could only improve his lot by dying. This should demonstrate several things: one, of course, that we can know that we have eternal life. Paul was not one bit worried about whether he could “endure” well enough to “keep” the eternal life he had already been given. It was his! Jesus promised it as an eternal gift, over and over. Paul never made an issue of it, because it simply wasn’t an issue. I have had people emphatically tell me that it is impossible to know that one has eternal life. My only answer has been God’s Word: Jesus himself promised (John 5:24) that anyone who has heard his Word and believed on (placed their trust in) the one who sent Him, has (present tense) eternal life. And, in John’s letter to the churches, he stated that the reason he was writing was so that they could know that they had eternal life. (1st John 5:11-13)
Paul knew he had eternal life, so the issue of whether he lived or died was truly unimportant to him, except that he knew he was still needed here amongst the flock…and if he stayed, He would live for Christ…and if he died, he would enter into eternal glory and reward with his Savior. He simply struggled with which was better!
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
He was torn between the two desires…the desire to “graduate” and move on into the eternity that awaited him, and, in contrast, the desire to stay, and to feed the flock and bless them. He knew that if he stayed here, he would see the fruit of his labor in the lives of the believers. But that fruit was already present and growing, so, if God called him home, he could go cheerfully, knowing he had faithfully done his part.
25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;
This is the particular verse that convinces many scholars that Paul endured two imprisonments. Paul “knew” that he would abide. I agree with that assessment, so, I think he must have done so; at least for a while. Can I prove it? Nope, I can’t. And, again, it has no effect on my theology, either way. I simply tend to take it “as written,” and believe that Paul was correct: that this was not just “wishful thinking” on Paul’s part. And what was his reasoning? He anticipated seeing the believers at Philippi again before his death.
26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
Paul definitely expected to make another trip to Philippi. We have no record of his actually having done so, but that is not as important as it may seem, because we also have no record (Biblical or extrabiblical) of any activities on the part of most of the other eleven apostles. History, scanty as it is, along with traditions, etc., tell us that they all served and all, or nearly all, were eventually martyred. I lean toward the assumption that Paul must have made a second trip to Philippi. Many Bible maps show a “dotted line” following a conjectured third missionary journey, because of such passages, but it doesn’t appear in the book of Acts; thus the uncertainty. You can deal with that however you want. It is simply a non-issue, to me, anymore.
Hope for Continued Fruit in the Lives of his Proteges
27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
Notice that Paul is not suggesting that the believers there have done anything wrong; he only exhorts them to “keep it up!” In fact, that is one of the nice things about this epistle…at no time does Paul feel constrained to rebuke or correct the believers in Philippi. He says for them to “keep the faith”, as it were, letting their behavior be in keeping with their faith, and especially that their unity be unblemished. He exhorted them to stand fast (suggests the conflict that they were enduring) in one spirit, and to “strive together” in unity, for the faith…suggesting evangelism…they were to advance the faith, not just “hunker down and hang on”, waiting for the second coming of Christ. They were to actively advance the Gospel. That is Evangelism.
28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
This is a passage which is often overlooked, or skipped over, possibly because it deals with persecution. We are not really comfortable with the implications, so we “move along” as if “there is nothing to see here”, when in fact, it is God’s Word, and there is certainly “something to see” here! Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to not be afraid of those who threatened them. He said that their adversaries would misunderstand their lack of fear as fatalism and the fact that they were under persecution as the mark of perdition…being under God’s judgment and hopelessly lost. But the reverse was true! Their supernatural peace was from God, and they were to see that supernatural peace in the face of persecution as further evidence of the security of their salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their deliverance from the presence of sin was yet to come. Their deliverance from the judgment of sin was already past. And their deliverance from the active power of sin in their lives was currently in progress. The enemy can’t stand to see the holiness and Love of God, reflected in believers’ lives, so persecution results. How we respond to it sends a further message as to its reality, to us and to them.
Hope through Suffering
29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
They were told that, in fact, their suffering as a believer was a mark of having been honored by God…that they were considered worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. It meant that they were really part of the body of Christ. Paul points out that suffering as a believer is a normal and honorable part of the Christian life: He says it has been given to YOU on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for him.
30 Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Which explains what they were seeing in Paul’s life. He was demonstrating that truth. Not that he willingly went out to seek suffering…that is never called for. He simply accepted the consequences of being an active ambassador for Christ.
I remember a time when working men bore rather proudly the scars of their professions: welders (myself included) had numerous burn scars; carpenters had scars from cuts, along with blackened thumbnails from crush-injuries; Mechanics had black grime worn into their skin and nails that never went away, despite vigorous, prolonged scrubbing. Sawyers, press-operators and similar machine operators occasionally had missing fingers. Virtually all workers had callouses on their hands, and likely a sunburned neck…and they were frequently branded “red-necks” because of these distinguishing marks. They bore those marks as part of their walk in life. But Paul was openly embracing the physical results and resultant scars of his calling: that of freely, fearlessly preaching the Gospel of Christ. In Galatians 6:17, he said “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”. His scars came from savage beatings, and riveted iron manacles, not everyday work.
I don’t have a single scar that I gained directly because of persecution of any sort. I have perhaps hundreds that were gained in employment as I sought to lead the life to which I was called. I have endured emotional and social distress because of serving the Lord, but I’ve never been physically hurt.
When things happen that seem out of keeping with God’s Grace, we need to remember Paul’s sufferings, which were not all from persecution. He suffered physical ailments as well, and God’s comment was that “My Grace is sufficient for thee.”
We share his Hope in Suffering, and we can pray for those being persecuted for their faith, while we ourselves press forward to serve. We should expect to experience conflict, ourselves, and know that we are sharing in the conflict, just as Paul did.
Lord Jesus, help us to cheerfully and willingly step forward in obedience, counting it all joy when we encounter opposition, whether circumstantial or personal. Mold us into you likeness, and give us Grace to serve as your ambassadors.